With Chinese New Year approaching in just over a week, I have been reflecting on great children’s literature based in Chinese history and culture. Chinese New Year 2015 is February 19, the Year of the Goat. For older kids who are able to enjoy chapter books there are Grace Lin’s The Year of the Dog, I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade by Diane Wilson, and Lloyd Alexander’s The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen. However, this last week G and I have thoroughly enjoyed reading and re-reading Stone Soup. Many of you may be wondering what Stone Soup has to do with China. Over the centuries, many countries have produced their own versions of Stone Soup or Button Soup, mostly originating in Europe. I grew up reading a version that took place in the American colonies right around the time of the Revolution. My favorite of them all, though, has become Jon J. Muth’s retelling set in a tiny Chinese village near the Great Wall. Three Buddhist monks look down on a simple collection of houses as they discuss how happiness is achieved. As is typical with Muth, his approach is very zen, yet nothing is lost with G. From the black cat which winds its tail about the water-color characters and peeks charmingly from over a giant pot to the wise, hospitable young girl dressed in royal yellow, G has taken this version in wholeheartedly.
Here is what we did:
Day One: Read the story
Drawing lesson – For those of you know me, don’t laugh. I am honestly the last person who needs to be teaching art, unless it is simply art appreciation. Yet, this was a simple lesson of recognizing the use of shapes. We turned to the story’s final page and noticed how the stone bridge created a trianglular shape. I attempted to help him draw his own two-point perspective and he included simple, waving and smiling figures. They were happy because they had learned how to make stone soup (see my upcoming blog post).
Day Two: Read the story again (no, children do not necessarily get bored like we might from reading the same story repetitively. As long as it is an engaging story the familiarity of the book will only serve to boost their confidence.)
Math with rocks, wood blocks and figures – The traveling Buddhist monks in Muth’s book collect three rocks for their soup. They are stacked in the illustration from the largest on the ground to the smallest precariously perched as the head of the Buddha himself. (G thought it resembled a snowman.) We explored our manipulative arranging them from largest to smallest, then smallest to largest, and finally creating different patterns.
Day Three – Read the story, of course.
Geography – Explore China on the map. Some people say it is shaped like a chicken. I can almost see it. G did find where he imagined the beak to be. We looked at photos of the Great Wall of China, colored a printout map which I found online, and learned a few Chinese phrases.
Ni hao ma = Hello, how are you?
Hun hao, she she = I am fine. Thank you.
We ran out of time that day, but another fun activity could have been to build our own Great Wall out of blocks. We like Citiblocs around here.
Day Four – Read the story
Social Studies – Create your own village of community people. Early in the story Muth names some of the villagers who were suspiciously lurking and peering secretively through windows. They were the doctor, scholar, tea merchant, carpenter and seamstress. We gathered up supplies and toys from about the house and spread them throughout the living room, giving space to each community helper. But, instead of acting stingy, we shared our talents. G gave me a shot, served me tea and read me a book.
Day Five – Read the story
Music and culture – Here we played with shadows, learning the farther away from our light source, the smaller the shadow. Shadow puppetry is a Chinese traditional art form, and we had fun not only with our hands, but also S’s marionette Chinese dragon puppet. Muth does a fabulous job with details throughout his illustrations. Not only is the clothing seemingly accurate down to the tiny shoes, but also the prominent red lanterns and musical instruments. The erhu and the pipa are specific instruments in Chinese folk music and play a role in the villagers’ eventual celebration feast. You can watch a video here like we did.
There is a day six in our study of Stone Soup. Can you guess what it is? Come back in a couple of days to see if you are right.